Ministers won't rule out NHS staff cuts as part of £22bn health service 'efficiency savings'

Further savings will be detailed by the NHS chief executive today

Ministers have failed to rule out cuts to doctors, nurses, and other NHS staff as part of their plan to make £22bn “efficiency savings” in the health service.

NHS managers will today hear how executives in the health service plan to make the savings, which will be complemented by an £8bn cash injection from the Treasury.

In a speech NHS England boss Simon Stevens will stress that the health service can be made more efficient by increasing preventative care and moving care from hospitals to GP surgeries

But despite today’s focus on positive measures and changes to working practices, the Government is refusing to rule out making NHS staff cuts.

Ministers at the Department of Health were asked by Labour MP Ian Lavery whether the “efficiency savings” to be rolled out over the next five years would lead to a reduction in staff.

Health minister Ben Gummer responded that the Conservative manifesto committed the government to ensuring that adequate staff were in place – but did not rule out cuts to their numbers.

“NHS England will be announcing further details about the implementation of the Five Year Forward View in due course,” he said in a written response.

“Making the best use of available technologies and cutting administration costs will free up £1.5 billion per year in this Parliament for extra resources for front line patient care.

“The Government's manifesto committed that we would continue to ensure that we have enough doctors, nurses and other staff to meet patients’ needs.”

The plan to shift work from A&Es to GPs could face huge obstacles, according to research, published today by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the Patients Association.

The report found that A&E wards were often “the only accessible service” for patients seeking same-day care and found that nearly a quarter of patients attending wards had actually contacted their GP first but had been turned away.

The study's authors propose that GPs be stationed at A&E departments, or ‘co-located’, so that the shift in care can be delivered without major behavioural change on behalf of patients. They also stress adequate resources would be required.

The continual drive to improve efficiency in the NHS comes despite studies regularly finding that the UK has the most efficient way of delivering healthcare out of all major developed countries.

A report by the Commonwealth Fund ranked Britain's health service best overall out of 11 major services including the US, France, Germany, Australia, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The NHS scored particularly highly on quality of care, efficiency, and low cost at the point of service.

The health service is facing a number of pressures including an aging population and a different financial situation, however, and ministers and managers are keen to push it further.

Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, said: “Before the election the Tories denied their plans involved staff cuts, but now they are refusing to rule them out.

“David Cameron should now come clean about what his plans for £22bn ‘savings’ involves – is he planning staff cuts or service closures?”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health did not immediately make any further comment on the subject of staff cuts when contacted by the Independent.